Lipulekh Labyrinth

GB ThapaBy Gopal Thapa  (KATHMANDU, July 5) – In my piece below, I must confess, there is nothing new I am saying. Everything is picked from different sources and pieced-together, with little bit of streamlining and fine-tuning. I was tempted to contribute this humble piece when I saw how interest-driven and callous border issue could become and how facts and evidences are often muzzled and smothered, just to defend ones border interest!  The entire Nepalese territory from Lipulekh pass to   Limpiyadhura, in dispute for long, is sufficient to prove that point. It has now come to be seen like a labyrinth getting out of which is seemingly difficult, if not impossible.

Let me begin my narration from the river Kali, or Mahakali. Between 1815 until now, the mystic river Kali, or Mahakali River, like goddess Kaali, is seen assume many names, within and across Nepal’s western border with India, as she meanders her way down from her traditionally- held abode in Limpiyadhura, its source of origin. In the upper reach, she was called most of the times by the consistent name of “river Kali’. Then suddenly, in the different maps drawn by Survey General of India, in the late 1850sand onwards, her real and traditional name suddenly disappears. In its place, surprisingly, in every map published at different periods then, she is given different crazy names, like, ” Kuti”, Kutiyangti” and “Kutiyanti”, which is puzzling. In a map of 1856, a hitherto nameless stream coming down from Lipulekh, several kilometer east in Nepal border, is given her original name “Kaali.  By the time she gradually arrives at the lower reaches and further down south to flat land called, terai in Nepal, she   then returns to her original name, though a small prefix added to it. She has since been called river “Mahakali”. Across Nepal border, when she touches the Indian soil, she castes away her Nepali name. From thenceforth, she is called river “Sarjoo”, or “Gogra”. In the process of her constant name- changing, in Nepal, border shifting moves towards east also continue, thereby creating further controversies with regard to her “name, actual place, and location of origin”.

The great omission

The “Sugauli Treaty” of 1815 does establish “Kaali River” as Nepal’s western border with India. However, the Treaty doesn’t specifically mention “Limpiadhura” as the “source of its origin”. Nor is there any countersigned map by the then agreeing parties attached to the Treaty, clearly showing and identifying “Limpiadhura” as the source of Kali River.These two omissions have left much room for border manipulation and commit cartographic aggression, in later years by the British rulers in India. The wily  rulers  of the then British-India , especially after the return  to Nepal of the  lowlands west of Rapti river to MahaKali river in consequence of the Treaty of 1860, appear to have begun unilaterally and at will   to engage in border  manipulation. But one notable  fact  is that all  available maps drawn  by the Surveyor General of India  between 1816 to 1856  do  show  consistently the  Kali River  as the international border and  “Limpiadhura” as its source of origin.

One wonders how the above two omissions occurred in the Treaty and whether the omissions were intentional, or otherwise. Perhaps, the omissions seem both “unintentional”   and occurred out of “indifference”. For the British-India, it may have been unintentional. The British were happy, it can be inferred, to have clipped the ever expanding wings of the Nepalese and, therefore, may not have given much thought on such omissions. Secondly, the strategic and other significance of that area were  perhaps not fully known to the British rulers then. For Nepal,   she was perhaps indifferent. Those omissions may not have made much of a difference to her, as a result of her having to forego a substantial portion of her territory under the Treaty. The fact that the omissions may have been unintentional for the British is also substantiated by a number of maps published by Survey General of India, between 1816 to 1854-55.  In all these maps, Limpiyadhura has consistently been shown as the source of origin of river Kali and also as the international border between Nepal and India along the letter and spirit of the Sugauli Treaty.  Other small streams, including one flowing down from Lipulekh have remained nameless in those maps.


However, inconsistencies and subtle cartographic aggression and border manipulation appear to have started from the periods beginning 1856, and onwards. A map published in 1856 by Survey General of India has suddenly shifted the border from Limpiyadhura to Lipukhola , while  retaining the name  river Kali for the river flowing from Limpiyadhura. It was the first cartographic aggression, done without knowledge of, and prior consultation with, the Nepal Government. In subsequent years, the unilateral exercises to alter border, shifting it in stages towards east from the Limpiyadhura  continued in the maps published by the then Survey General of India . For the first time, Map published in 1879, the Kali River flowing from Limpiyadhura has been given a new name “Kutiyangti”. Not only that those groups of maps suddenly and surprisingly have named the Lipukhola,  previously remained nameless , several miles east of  limpiyadhura, as Kaali river, instead, and is shown as the international border between the two countries, again without absolutely any knowledge of , and prior consultation with, Nepal. As if that was not enough, encroaching Nepalese territory continued by shifting border gradually towards east of Lipukhola, now unilaterally named as Kali River.

Now, the new boundary has moved away further east even from Lipukhola . The map of 1856 shows   Kalapani,  to the west of Lipukhola. Interestingly, Survey General of India’s map published in 1879 has moved  border  again  further east of Lipukhola, including Kalapani. The new border   follows south along a small stream Pankhagadh , to the south  of Kaalapani  and then “It  moves again north along the ridge lines” all the way up to Lipulekh. The Kalapani and Lipulekh pass are now shown well inside the so-called Indian Territory!


So, there has been a clear violation of Treaty provisions, unilaterally and on many occasions. We can see how the name- changing and border -shifting subterfuges gradually moved to the east from Limpiyadhura to Lipukhola and then from there to further along ridgelines to the east of Kalapaani between 1856 to 1879, and the periods since.  Why did Nepal remain quiet in all those years when her legitimate territory was being encroached upon and international border altered and moved again and again?   In the absence of credible information, whether the Britsh in India took to these tasks unilaterally, or with tacit approval of the Rana rulers of the time cannot be said definitively. Perhaps,  it may be fair to assume that the rulers immediately after the Sugauli Treaty  in Kathmandu were too demoralized and weak to  object those moves even if they knew about it.  After the conclusion of a new treaty in  1860,  the then Prime Minister, Jung Bahadur Rana  must have been too busy to rejoice at the regaining of some of the lost territories,  now called Baanke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur. Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura  and their strategic significance  may have held too little meaning and  value for him , compared to the lands he was able to get back from the British. So, the wily British rulers seem to have chosen correct and ideal time to launch and realize their sinister border shifting motives.

Throughout the Panchayat periods, and even after the Indian troops were allowed to station itself in Kalapani from 1962, to date our voice against this border aggression is all but muted. The issue has now come into increased public focus, especially after the India-china bilateral agreement on May, this year on Lipulekhpass. The public, the media, the Lawmakers in the CA and many political party leaders have now been raising this issue seriously. The Government was called to the CA to brief its members on the steps taken so far to resolving this issue. The momentum generated now must continue but  the methods and means to be  applied should be  purely diplomatic.

For India, too, this impasse has seemingly become both a boon and bane.  It may be a boon to   expand economic and other ties with China through this route.  But it may be more of a bane because India knows that these are indeed Nepal’s territory.  Perhaps Prime minister Narendra Modi may have already felt a moral dilemma of having to occupy Nepalese territory in utter disregard for and in contravention of the historical facts and evidences in clear favor of Nepal. He knows for sure that such an act may fester, not foster, relations with its longtime traditional neighbor. But international relations, including bilateral, are first and foremost, driven by supreme national interest. So, we have yet to see to believe, how he will be able reconcile his idealism about forging good neighborhood relations with Nepal, particularly on the Lipulekh pass issue. Nevertheless, let us keep our finger crossed! Again how China, which is quite familiar with the disputes, could agree to enter into an agreement by totally ignoring and excluding Nepal, is somewhat baffling. Perhaps, economic and other strategic interests may have been the cause for the Chinese recent change of heart.

Meantime, wisdom lies in the ability of both countries making sincere efforts for resolving these disputes by honoring the historical facts and the spirit of   the Sugauli Treaty. The Treaty and subsequent maps cited above clearly prove that the territory east of Limpiyadhura belonged to Nepal and that the river kali as mentioned in the treaty is indeed originated from Limpiyadhura, not from Lipulekh, or from the artificial pond, south of Kalapani, which were nothing but cartographic aggression.

In this light, diplomatic efforts must be brought to bear upon India and China, both our good neighbors, to agree to rescind the recent bilateral agreement between them on Lipulekh pass. All three countries must take due recognition of the fact that the entire   territory from Lipulekh to Limpiyadhura, including the border, remain disputed as of now. Sanity demands that all  the three countries should , therefore, refrain from   entering into unilateral or, bilateral initiatives of any kind  on the border and within the territory in question, until the disputes  are resolved. We must persuade India diplomatically and on the basis of historical facts   to resolve the disputes.  For that, there has to be political determination and resolve, which is always not forthcoming from the Government. Our borders, we must know, are the soul of our nation. They are not only about territory. More than that, they represent our national identity, our sovereignty and national independence.   The way out of the Lipulekh labyrinth may seem complex and protracted, but there is no retracting to be made. The government must be backed and supported to enable it to continue exploring all the possible avenues to break through the labyrinth.

Gopal Thapa is Nepal’s Former Chief of Protocol. 

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